Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hantuchova out of Fed Cup

Daniela Hantuchova, suffering from fatigue and heel pain, has withdrawn from the Slovakian Fed Cup team for the upcoming matches against the Czech Republic. Hantuchova says she may not be able to play in the Open Gaz de France, either.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sharapova to play in Dubai

Maria Sharapova has entered the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, which will take place starting February 25. Also entered are Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic and Serena Williams. Sharapova, who not play in Dubai last year, lost to Justine Henin in the 2006 final.

Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships is a Tier II tournament.

Hantuchova and Szavay get new representation

Daniela Hantuchova and Agnes Szavay have both signed representation agreements with Octagon.

Hantuchova is currently number 8 in the world, and Szavay is number 20.

Italian Fed Cup team still looking good

Francesca Schiavone will lead the Italian team in its Fed Cup match against Spain

When Italy won the Fed Cup title in 2006, it was largely through the marvelous efforts of Francesca Schiavone, whose fighting spirit overcame serious opposition from the Spanish team. Last year, Italy was in the finals, but lost to Russia. The 2008 Italian team has lost Robera Vinci and doubles specialist Mara Santangelo, but it still looks like a team to beat:

Francesca Schiavone is still the Italian player to watch at Fed Cup. Schiavone shines at this event, and can be counted on to perform well--and sometimes, brilliantly.

Flavia Pennetta, who was out with an injury for a long time, is now back and in form, having won the 2007 Bangkok Open, and beating both Shahar Peer and Venus Williams on the way to the final. Pennetta is also a successful doubles competitor.

Tathiana Garbin has had more success with doubles than with singles, but is one of those players whom higher-ranked players are not probably not keen on seeing on the other side of the net. Garbin and Schiavone, by the way, both have one-handed backhands.

Sara Errani made her first top 100 finish last season. People noticed her at this year's Australian Open because she took Lindsay Davenport to three sets (she had a 4-2 lead in the third set) in the first round.

Italy will play Spain in the upcoming Fed Cup round. The Spanish team consists of Anabel Medina Garrigues, Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, Virginia Ruano Pascual, and Nuria Llagostera Vives. Medina Garrigues is a talented but inconsistent player, who can be as tenacious as Schiavone. Ruano Pascual is a former doubles world number 1, and she and Medina Garrigues are currently ranked 22 and 21, respectively, in doubles.

Italy has a 3-2 head-to-head lead against Spain in Fed Cup.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Karatantcheva: interview-wise, she's almost as much fun as the Bondarenkos

Here are some snippets from a recent interview with Sesil Karatantcheva:

You have a new tattoo. Is it a sign of a new beginning?
After they banned me from the court, I needed only two days to make up my mind about the tattoo. I wanted something that was both beautiful and unique. My tattoo represents a fairy. I still believe in miracles.

Not before long you told journalists that you had a German boyfriend. How do you sustain your relationship?
God bless the mobile phones! I think that all these writings about my personal life are more than enough.

And finally, this gem...

What's the sharp lesson that you learnt from this ban?
I learnt I should always use condoms.

Parmentier and Cornet added to French Fed Cup team

Amelie Mauresmo and Marion Bartoli have been replaced by Pauline Parmentier and Alize Cornet in France's Fed Cup team that will compete against China in the upcoming round.

Petrova enters Family Circle Cup

A banner bearing the image of 2006 champion Nadia Petrova hangs outside the stadium

Nadia Petrova, the 2006 Family Circle Cup champion, has entered the 2008 Charleston tournament. Petrova did not attempt to defend her title last year, but is returning now. In 2006, when she defeated Patty Schnyder to win the tournament, she was in the middle of a very hot clay streak, and was a favorite to win the French Open. She injured herself during her Roland Garros warmup, however, and went out in the first round. She has not really been the same since, and has been candid about her occasional lack of motivation.

Petrova went out in the first round at Gold Coast, and then accepted a wild card to the Medibank International tournament in Sydney, where she also went out in the first round. She made it to the round of 16 of the Australian Open, but was defeated by Agnieszka Radwanska.

The selling of Ivanovic--here we go again

La Gazzetta dello Sport has a new interview with Ana Ivanovic, and parts of it represent the deeply unfortunate marriage between the patriarchal view of young women athletes, and how those athletes buy into that view. The interviewer, Lorenzo Cazzaniga, cannot be blamed for the interview's title--"The New Lolita"--that was most likely created by a copy editor. However, the title was obviously inspired by Cazzaniga's opening line, " At first sight, Ana Ivanovic looks to be of the same ilk as those 'Made in Kournikova' Lolita types...." One way or the other, it is disgusting.

First, Ivanovic is not a girl; she is a young woman. More important, however, is the title's reference to a siren-like quality that makes grown men become fools and even criminals. This attribution of sexual "power" to women and girls (a man recently told me that "women have all the power," and he was shocked that I did not agree) in order to prevent females from having real power is the same trick that has been used for hundreds of years. And it still works.

For her part, Ivanovic posed for at least one Lolita-type (the interviewer's context, not mine--I actually know something about Lolita) photo for the story. And her very first interview answer is sure to set off some "cat fight" glee among readers:

Your future seems certain. You’re pretty, sought after by sponsors. People are talking about you as the new Sharapova…

It’s strange, Sharapova doesn’t say a word to anyone, whereas I talk, smile, laugh!

Perhaps Sharapova isn't talking so much because she is busy winning Grand Slam tournaments (to his credit, the editor implies such in his next question).

The interview on the Ivanovic site was done in English, translated into Italian, and then translated back into English, so a few nuances may have been lost, but we get the message: Ivanovic is the next big sex product of the Sony Ericsson WTA tour. She will make a ton of money, her photographs will become a kind of "acceptable" pornography, men will post on forums what they would like to do to her body, and little girls will be assured that--if they just stay away from French fries and wear the right skirts--they, too, can have this kind of "success."

A few years ago, someone asked Sharapova whether the tour was selling sex. "I don't care what they're selling," she answered. (I like to think she may have cared a few months later, when a Japanese company began selling a large pillow with a likeness of her breasts on it.) Now that girls are once again being told that it is their sex appeal that they must and should promote, sports organizations, managers and parents are complicit in the international marketing of young sportswomen with long legs, and with faces so unformed that anything one wishes can be projected onto them.

Ana Ivanovic is a talented tennis player, but that ultimately will not matter to anyone who does not closely follow women's professional tennis. She will instead go the way of Kournikova and Sharapova and become an icon of sex, and a most unfortunate teacher of little girls--and little boys. Sharapova, with her wit and intelligence, appears ready to transcend the world of cheap sex thrills, but there is always another "girl" waiting to take a big swig of the patriarchal Kool-Aid.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's Maria time--but only if your watch is set right

A couple of years ago, when a reporter asked Maria Sharapova about any comparisons that could be made between her and Anna Kournikova, Sharapova said: "People seem to forget that Anna isn't in the picture anymore; it's Maria time now."

Maybe not. Acquaintances who know I am into women's pro tennis asked me last week who was likely to win the Australian Open or who had won the Australian Open. When I said Maria Sharapova, it was alarming how many times the response was "Oh, is she still married to Enrique Iglesias?"

It's all one tall Russian blonde to them.

My top 10 Australian Open occurrences

The 2008 Australian Open had some special features. An important element was the new surface, whose success can be measured by the fact that there was only one ankle injury in the entire tournament, and no one got hauled off on a stretcher because of heat illness. Another thing that made the 2008 tournament special was that we knew, after the quarterfinals, that there would be a first-time Australian Open champion. Also, the newly retired Sandra de Jenken was conspicuous by her absence. Here are my top 10, in ascending order:

10. She's...back!: Marta Domachowska, whose career had slid practically out of sight, started this season in good fashion, and punctuated that start with an impressive round of 16 appearance in Melbourne, giving Venus Williams all kinds of trouble before being defeated 6-4, 6-4.

9. Caroline Wozniacki--danger waiting to happen: The under-the-radar phenom from Denmark showed the world what her game--and her court personality--is all about in her quarterfinal match against Ana Ivanovic. There were moments when I wondered whether Ivanovic would survive.

8. Oi oi oi!: Casey Dellacqua got fit, got ready, and got a chance to make an entire continent proud of her. She went out in the round of 16, but she had a great run, taking out unprepared former Australian Open champion Amelie Mauresmo along the way.

7. Hey, you two--this isn't the French Open!: Jelena Jankovic and Tamira Paszek saw to it that the most exciting match of the tournament would take place in the first round, and broke each other again and again, leading to a three-set thriller, in which Paszek served for the match five times, had three match points, and was finally extinguished by the tour's best defensive player.

6. We tried to tell her: Jelena Jankovic came to Melbourne with an injured thigh, made worse by her repeated attempts to play in the Hopman Cup, and her now chronic back injury finally did her in. Too much match play in 2007 broke down her body and greatly diminished her Australian Open chances.

5. Serena Williams goes "crazy": That is her word, and it will do as well as any.

4. When sports psychology is not enough: Long known as the biggest choker on the tour, Daniela Hantuchova--who has worked so hard to get her ranking back--got destroyed last summer in the U.S. Open by a significantly injured Serena Williams. This time, she lost it at 6-0, 2-0, and allowed Ana Ivanovic to go to the final. While it is evident that Hantuchova is no longer the neurotic perfectionist she once was, she still does not know how to accept the idea of winning.

3. Maria Sharapova cruises: The champion runs through the entire tournament without dropping a set.

2. The Bondarenko sisters decide it's time to win a tournament: In 38 tries, they had never done it, so they figured a good first tournament to win was a Grand Slam.

And number 1...
The full-throttle dismantling of Justine Henin in the quarterfinals: Maria Sharapova sends a message, with a side order of cream cheese.

Sun and Zimonjic win Australian Open

Sun Tiantian and her partner, Nenad Zimonjic, have won the Australian Open mixed doubles championship, defeating Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, 7-6, 6-4. Mirza appeared to be suffering with some type of injury, making it more difficult for her and Bhupathi to fully compete. The match was nevertheless close, with the Indian team up a mini-break in the first set tiebreak before Sun and Zimonjic charged through. The second set featured more aggressive play by Sun, and she and Zimonjic were more dominant.

This is Sun's first Grand Slam title. She is the holder of 11 women's doubles titles and an Olympic gold medal.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kristina Brandi retires

Kristina Brandi of Puerto Rico, who was once ranked as high as number 27 in the world, has announced her retirement. Brandi was a three-time member of the Puerto Rico Fed Cup team, and a member of the 2004 Olympic team. She has recently been featured in an ad for Rums of Puerto Rico.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ave Maria!

Maria Sharapova lost her way for a short while in the middle of the first set of the Australian Open women's final, losing control of both her serve and her forehand, but that turned out to be a brief detour on her otherwise smooth road to championship victory. Continuing the pattern she has held throughout most of this tournament, Sharapova achieved a remarkable 89% on first serve wins, and an equally impressive 70% on second serve wins. She also won 80% of her net approaches, and was--in short--stunning.

In the second set, Sharapova lost only two points on her serve, and won three service games in a row at love. She almost won the fourth, but after a let call was successfully challenged by opponent Ana Ivanovic, Sharapova failed to win the point on her second serve. She did, however, hold at 15.

Ivanovic, for her part, was much more poised and mentally prepared than she was for her French Open final, when she was practically frozen with fear. Ivanovic had some shining moments and served well, but made twice as many unforced errors as Sharapova, and--in general--was out-hit in every part of the court by an aggressive opponent. She had only two break chances against Sharapova the entire match, and converted only one of them.

The crowd support went overwhelmingly to Ivanovic, who appears to have replaced Aussie Kim as the favorite Australian adopted daughter. Sharapova won the title without dropping a set, giving her mother, Yelena, a fantastic birthday present.

14th seed wins Australian junior title

Arantxa Rus, the number 14 seed from The Netherlands, has defeated Australian Jessica Moore, 6-3, 6-4 to win the 2008 Australian Open junior title. Moore, who was unseeded had a great run, taking out Madison Brengle, but was stopped before she could give Australia a Grand Slam win.

I couldn't wait to read this interview

And I wasn't disappointed. Some snippets from the Bondarenko sisters' highly entertaining post-victory press conference:

Q. How many years have you been together?
Kateryna: Always

Q. What does this win mean to you both?
Alona: We don't know yet.
Kateryna: Yeah, probably not really know yet that we won a Grand Slam. I mean, we know, but--
Alona: ‑‑we don't understand it.

Q. Also when you reached the final, you said now it's time for beer. Will there be a champagne celebration tonight?
Kateryna: We already start.

Friday cat blogging--casual Friday edition

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bondarenko sisters win Australian Open!

Kateryna Bondarenko and her sister Alona have won the Australian Open

It took them a while to settle down, and it took them a while to close, but Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko nevertheless managed to outmaneuver Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer to win the Australian Open. Both teams had their ups and downs, but it was Kateryna's splendid serving and groundstrokes and Alona's clever net play that helped make a difference.

Azarenka and Peer were seeded number 12 in the tournament; the Bondarenkos were unseeded. The sometimes cranky Ukrainian sisters had never before made it past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament, and indeed, had never before won any of the thirty-eight previous tournaments they had entered.

Final score: Bondarenko/Bondarenko def. Azarenka/Peer, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4

More on Bartoli and Fed Cup, and now Mauresmo is part of the controversy, too

Yesterday, I noted that Marion Bartoli was picked to be on the French Fed Cup team for France's upcoming match against China. I also noted that some type of agreement must have been made between French Fed Cup captain Georges Goven and Bartoli, regarding the presence of Bartoli's father/coach at Fed Cup matches. I was wrong. What happened was that Goven picked Bartoli for the team, knowing that she may still refuse because Dr. Bartoli cannot accompany her.

It gets worse: Goven also picked Amelie Mauresmo for the upcoming match, and she does not want to play because she thinks she should concentrate on getting her game back after all of the illness and injury that she has endured. Who can blame her?

Refusing to play in Fed Cup when one is asked to means that a player cannot be considered for participation in the Olympics. According to Goven, that is fine with Bartoli, but there is no word about how silver medal winner Mauresmo feels about it.

It must be "Ask Ana Stupid Questions Week"

Not only did Ana Ivanovic have to contend with a reporter in Melbourne asking her a sexually provocative and very inappropriate question, but in her blog, she also reports: "One interviewer automatically thought that I'm too focused on tennis and I don't have time for a boyfriend but that's not the case."

If you do interesting things outside of tennis like Sharapova or the Williams sisters, then you are not focused enough on your tennis. If you focus on your tennis to the exclusion of having a boyfriend, then you are obviously failing as a female.

Other players need to follow the example of the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova and cut these reporters off at the knees.

Tennis media continues with the disgusting questions--this one is beyond the pale

This was an interview question posed to Ana Ivanovic after her Australian Open semifinal victory:

May I ask you, when you talk in Serbian, do you always talk like that, the way you talk in English, all breathless? Especially when you talk to your boyfriend, do you talk like that?

We can all put down money that the reporter will not be reprimanded in any way. It is unfortunate that Ivanovic did not put him in his place.

Get out your earplugs: Sharapova vs. Ivanovic

One shrieks, the other squeaks. The Australian Open women's final is guaranteed to be played at a high pitch, and I am not using a metaphor here. Maria Sharapova's shrieks grow louder as a match progresses, and Ivanovic's Australian Open squeaky shoes grate on the nerves--at least if you are a television viewer (or Daniela Hantuchova).

I miss players like Chris Evert, who dominated with shot-making and without noise. The steely look on Evert's face spoke louder than any scream. With today's power play, it is understandable that a number of players are going to grunt, but I still do not understand how screaming (which many commentators insist on calling grunting, for some reason)--a la Sharapova, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka--came to be part of tennis. During the 2005 Sharapova-Williams Wimbledon semifinal, I had to turn off the sound for a while, so intense was the screaming from both players.

Hantuchova was the first player to complain to the umpire about Ivanovic's squeaky shoes, but her complaint fell on deaf ears. Ivanovic does a lot of footwork while her opponent is serving. There is nothing wrong with that--it is natural--but with those shoes, the result is that there are grating squeaks occurring right around the time of the ball toss. I have never heard Ivanovic's shoes squeak before (which doesn't mean they did not squeak--it just means that I do not recall that they did); it appears she is wearing a different type of shoe, or that her type of shoe has some unfortunate friction on the new Melbourne surface.

At any rate, you have been warned: The women's final is going to be loud, and not in a good way. The screaming cannot possibly be good for the Sharapova vocal cords, but she says it is the natural thing for her to do. I have gotten used to it, but I know I will never get used to the shoe-squeaking--here's hoping Ivanovic goes shoe-shopping some time soon.

Hantuchova's evil twin sends Ivanovic into the finals

The ghost of Daniela Past--the Hantuchova who could always be counted on to choke--is like an evil twin who can stay locked in her room only so long. And like the evil twin of all bad literature, Daniela Hantuchova's breaks the lock just when she can do the most damage. Hantuchova won the first set of her Australian Open semifinal against Ana Ivanovic, 6-0. She simply could do no wrong, taking time to set up her points, and using her forehand to dazzling advantage.

She broke Ivanovic in the first game of the second set, then held. Then Ivanovic held, and in the fourth game, the evil twin came out and started messing with Hantuchova's forehand. For the rest of the match, Hantuchova would hit a series of forehand volleys that sometimes looked as though they were headed for another court. The momentum changed, and Ivanovic took the second set.

The third set was one that featured, for the most part, high quality tennis from both players. Hantuchova sometimes constructed her points carefully, and other times, she would play like the Hantuchova of old--going for broke when it was not at all prudent. But even though her game was fading, she still had great moments, and Ivanovic--by this time the mentally tougher of the two--gave Hantuchova plenty of chances to change the momentum again. It did not happen, though. In the sixth game, there were seven deuces and only one break point, and when Ivanovic won, there was a strong sense of destiny for her.

There were numerous arguments over line calls, with both players not getting what they wanted from the chair umpire. At one point, when a linesperson called a shot in that was out, Ivanovic asked the chair umpire to overrule, but she did not. Ivanovic had one challenge left after making some truly silly ones (as did Hantuchova) and apparently, she did not want to use it then.

Hantuchova should have won this match, but when a very tough opponent teams up with your evil twin, things go wrong.

Final score: Ivanovic def. Hantuchova, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4

Sharapova will need to serve better in the final than she did against Jankovic. Jankovic's injury kept her from taking advantage of Sharapova's suddenly weakened serve, or we might be seeing two Serbs in the final.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Pavlychenkova out in quarterfinals

Junior top seed Anastasia Pavlychenkova, the favorite to win the Australian Open, has been defeated in the quarterfinals by Simona Halep of Romania, 6-2, 6-3. Unseeded Australian Jessica Moore won her quarterfinal match (even delivering a bagel) and is the only unseeded player left in the draw.

Memo to Chris Fowler

Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic are not guys, either. They, too, are women.

And Hantuchova does not say that she does not enjoy the fashion part of her life; she says that she enjoys it very much. So please stop with the "Hantuchova says one thing and does another" routine. (Unfortunately, Hantuchova is enjoying fashion in a way that is certainly disappointing to me--there is a new tour photo of her standing in a Versace store wearing a fur-trimmed coat.)

Shaky Sharapova defeats injured Jankovic to reach finals in Melbourne

I have been waiting the entire tournament for Jelena Jankovic, who has been suffering from a thigh injury, to have her back go out. Finally, it did, while she was playing her semifinal match against Maria Sharapova. Jankovic looked pitifully sluggish and weak in the first set, and I suspected an injury. Her now-chronic back injury was giving her trouble again, and when she saw the trainer, I thought she might retire. She did not, and there were moments when she had full mobility, but they were few and far between.

In the meantime, Sharapova was serving poorly, in Sharapova terms, which was one of the keys for Jankovic to win the match. Sharapova had a 55 first serve percentage and a 50 second serve percentage--quite low for her. She did serve eight aces, however, and had little trouble fending off an injured opponent.

Jankovic's mother says that no one has been able to successfully treat Jankovic's back, but Jankovic intends to seek other specialists. The good news, according to her mother, is that Jankovic is going to get a service coach, something she needs if she is going to compete at the top level of women's tennis. She has the best defensive game on the tour, but without a better serve, she will continue to struggle against top players. This was the same problem Martina Hingis had during her comeback, and one hopes that Jankovic will follow through, and therefore lift the level of her game.

Final score: Sharapova def. Jankovic, 6-3, 6-1

Bondarenko sisters into the finals

Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual in their Australian Open semifina, 6-2, 6-4. The unseeded team from Ukraine will play number 12 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer in the final.

No Williams sisters on February U.S. Fed Cup team

It should come as no surprise to anyone that neither Venus nor Serena Williams will be on the U.S. team during the upcoming Fed Cup match against Germany. The U.S. team will consist of Lindsay Davenport, Lisa Raymond, Laura Granville, and Ashley Harkleroad. The match will be played on a hard court in California.

It is of interest that Marion Bartoli is listed as a member of the French Fed Cup team. She and the captain must have come to some type of undertstanding regarding the presence of Baroli's father/coach, which had heretofore been prohibited.

4 women standing

Nick Bollettieri, who knows both Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic very well, says that if Sharapova does not win their semifinal match in two sets, the victor will most likely be Jankovic. If Sharapova's serve does not stay at a very high level, or...if Jankovic can figure out early on how to use Sharapova's serve against her (something David Ferrer finally figured out in his semifinal againt Djokovic, only he was a bit too late doing it), he thinks Jankovic gets the edge. Otherwise, he likes Sharapova. Again, to use the Djokovic-Ferrer match as an example: short rallies = good news for Sharapova, long rallies = good news for Jankovic.

What about Ivanovic and Hantuchova? Ivanovic is the clear favorite here, but after seeing Hantuchova's steady nerves and shot selection in her quarterfinal, I think this could turn into an actual contest. Hantuchova will have to be careful not to let her opponent's grunting and squeaking get to her, and she will have to be aggressive from the get-go to show Ivanovic that she means business. Ivanovic, of course, will have to be careful not to let Hantuchova's very mannered service habits not get to her, and she will have to serve at a high level.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Top 4 doubles seeds now out

Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual have defeated number 4 seeds Kveta Peschke and Rennae Stubbs, 6-4, 6-1, making the upset sweep complete at the Australian Open. Number 10 seeds Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual (former number 1 in the world) will play unseeded Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko in the semifinals. The other semifinal will feature number 7 seeds Yan Zi and Zheng Jie versus number 12 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer.

Upsets, upsets everywhere

I have written a good deal about the upsets in both singles and doubles in this Australian Open, but there have also been some big ones in juniors. Top seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is still around, but others have not been so lucky. Third seed Nikola Hofmanova was defeated by an unseeded player in the second round, and in the third, second seed Ksenia Lykina was also defeated by an unseeded player. Also going out in the third round was the number 7 seed, who fell to Australia's Jessica Moore, and number 4 seed Madison Brengle, who was defeated by the fourteenth seed. Brengle had a 4-0 lead in the third set, but lost the set, 9-7.

2nd Serb overcomes 2nd Williams sister

In the day's secondd quarterfinal, Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic put on an ugly display of errors and breaks in the first set, but raised the level of play considerably in the second. Williams had a 3-0 lead in the second set, but Ivanovic caught up, and--while there were several stunning rallies--Williams continued to make too many errors. She had two break points when Ivanovic served for the match, but Ivanovic reeled off two aces, then hit her way to victory.

If someone had told me that Venus Williams would play a Grand Slam quarterfinal without hitting any backhand winners, I would have laughed, but that is exactly what happened. For the second day in a row, a Williams sister mystifies.

Final score: Ivanovic def. Williams, 7-6, 6-4

Elegant Hantuchova takes out Radwanska in straight sets

Expert volleys, down-the-lines, drop shots, lobs--Daniela Hantuchova had them all. Agnieska Radwanska, playing in her first Australian Open quarterfinal, showed fans some good tennis, but she was no match for the (steady-nerved!) Hantuchova, who had most of the answers most of the time throughout the contest.

Final score: Hantuchova def. Radwanska, 6-2, 6-2

Sharapova easily defeats Henin to reach Melbourne semifinal

6-4, 6-0 is not ever the score one expects as a result against world number 1 Justine Henin, but it was the score produced by Maria Sharapova in their Australian Open quarterfinal. I did not get to see the match, as much as I wanted to. I was not surprised that Sharapova won--I expected her to--but the scoreline did surprise me.

Henin was having some trouble with her knee, but it seems that she was having even more trouble with Sharapova's power and precision. When Sharapova is on, she is very hard to beat, and it appears she was on in a big way. Her second serve is indeed back, and her net win percentage was 82%.

Raymond out in mixed doubles

Lisa Raymond and Simon Aspelin, the number 2 seeds in the Australian Open mixed doubles, have beeen upset by Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati, 6-3, 2-6, 10-7.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Top doubles seeds out of Australian Open

Alona Bondarenko and her sister Kateryna, an unseeded team, have taken out top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber

Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko received a walkover from Lindsay Davenport and Daniela Hantuchova in the third round of the Australian Open, then pulled off a remarkable upset by defeating top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the quarterfinals.

The top three seeds--Black & Huber, Srebotnik & Sugiyama, and Chan & Chuang--have all been eliminated.

Final score: Bondarenko/Bondarenko def. Black/Huber, 6-3, 6-2

JJ Express rolls over Williams

Both were injured. One showed up looking like her old self, despite days of heavy scrapping; the other showed up not looking like herself at all. It was all Jelena Jankovic in the first set of her Australian Open quarterfinal against defending champion Serena Williams. Williams was sluggish, out of sorts, and unable to find her killer serve. Jankovic, on the other hand, looked surprisingly fresh.

In the second set, Williams seemed to find her spirit, lifting her serve and forcing a lot more issues. But she continued to make more errors than Jankovic, and Jankovic continued to play the kind of relentless defense that is the hallmark of her game. She also did a very good job of returning the Williams serve. Williams broke Jankovic the first time she served for the match, held, and then brought the tenth game of the second set to deuce, only to double-fault on her serve. Jankovic then won the match on her first match point when Williams hit a return wide.

Jankovic has played the entire tournament with a bad hip. Williams was treated earlier in the day for a thigh issue, and both players received treatment (Williams for a foot blister) during the second set. Those who watched Williams practice said she was feeling out of sorts then, also.

Final score: Jankovic def. Williams, 6-3, 6-4

Bondarenko sisters get a walkover

Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko, who upset Peng Shuai and Sun Tiantian in the second round of the Australian Open, are now into the quarterfinals by virtue of a walkover from Lindsay Davenport and Daniela Hantuchova. That's the good news. The other news is that they must now play the number one seeds, Cara Black and Liezel Huber.

Also in doubles, Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer have upset Sania Mirza and Alicia Molik, 7-5, 6-3.

" was like big face of Anna..."

Back before Martina Hingis took courses in English, her delightful broken English was one of my favorite things about her. Last night on television, one of the commentators remarked that Maria Kirilenko was the only major Russian player who has not yet mastered English, and I thought to myself that her interviews might be rich with interesting word construction.

Sure enough, this morning, someone on a tennis board pointed out Kirilenko's interview after her victory over her friend, Anna Chakvetadze. It is filled not only with some charming turns of English phrase, but also some refreshingly candid, artless remarks.

Chakvetadze enters Family Circle Cup

Anna Chakvetadze will make her Charleston debut this year, joining Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams as early entrants. The green clay tournament will take place April 12-20 on Daniel Island.

Clueless in Melbourne

After Atalanta features a "pro-woman" article today by an obviously sexist journalist named Andrea Burns. To say that Burns doesn't get it is to understate. First, as ken points out, what hole has she been living in that she thinks gender equality exists in sports? And beyond that piece of shocking ignorance are the statements Burns makes about Amelie Mauresmo, whom she describes as "masculine," and losing "the swimsuit contest," thereby totally buying into rigid, patriarchal definitions of gender roles and physical attractiveness.

Says Burns, "Seems like a hollow victory for the girls. How can we ever be taken seriously this way?" Thank you, Andrea, but if I need a feminist advocate, I prefer to look elsewhere.

Will Jankovic keep her promise to play less, or will she ruin what she has built?

Here it is, mid-way into the Australian Open, and Jelena Jankovic has already played every week of the season, in addition to trying to play--twice--while injured during the Hopman Cup. She does not look like herself--how could she?--and she does not appear to have worked much on her serve, the one real weakness in her game.

There probably isn't a bigger Jankovic fan than I, and I feel she has let us, her fans, down. But that is not important. What is important is what she has done to herself by this brutalizing of her body and mind through constant play. Jankovic is very fit, yes, but fitness goes only so far. She says that she played so many matches last year because she prefers tournament play to practice. That is all well and good, but playing in tournaments takes away her ability to control her own schedule, and produces mental stress.

Jankovic's ranking is going to go down one way or the other, and it is better for it to go down by her player fewer tournaments than for it to go down because she can no longer compete at the level at which she competed last year. I love watching her play, and I want the best for her. She is so close to doing something really great, yet--at the same time--she is close to burning all of her opportunities. Here's hoping she makes the right decisions.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chan and Chuang upset in Australian Open

The talented team of Chan Jung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung, seeded number 3 at the Australian Open, lost, 6-2, 7-6, in the third round to Flavia Pennetta and Janette Husarova.

The number 2 seeds, Srebotnik and Sugiyama, made an exit in the first round when they were defeated by Venus and Serena Williams.

Let's hear it for the phenoms!

Last week, I talked about the tour's unofficial phenoms--Tamira Paszek, Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Agnes Szavay, and I tossed in Caroline Wozniacki, too. As a group, they have done well at this Australian Open.

Szavay's performance was most likely disappointing to her fans: She was defeated in the first round by Ekaterina Makarova, who made it to the third round and lost to Nadia Petrova. Paszek went out in the first round, too, but in a blaze of glory, as she lost a three-hour, break-filled extravaganza to Jelena Jankovic.

Azarenka stuck around until the third round, then fell to Serena Williams. Wozniacki made it to the round of 16, and was quite impressive in terms of whom she had to get past to make it there: Gisela Dulko, Alona Bondarenko and Sabine Lisicki, the young player who defeated Dinara Safina. Wozniacki finally folded when she played Ana Ivanovic. She was hardly present for the first set, but in the second, she was on fire, and came close to pushing the match to a third set; the longer she played, the better she got.

Then there is Radwanska, who--not content just to take out world number 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova--knocked off Nadia Petrova in the round of 16, and gave her a third set bagel for good measure. Radwanska is now into the quarterfinals, in which she will play Daniela Hantuchova.

Carrillo promotes feminism on the tour--sort of

Commentator Mary Carill0 went on a worthy rant during the Australian Open Williams-Domachowska round of 16 match, about how few players on the tour are willing to speak up about important issues, especially issues that affect the status of women. She cited the refusal of such stars as Graf, Seles and Henin to ever speak out, and she praised the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova for speaking out--especially Venus Williams.

Amen to all that, but it is especially ironic--and not in a good way--if, when one is talking about feminist issues, one calls Venus Williams a "statesman" and a "spokesman."

Marta's back!

So far had Marta Domachowska tumbled down the rankings, I wasn't even sure she was still playing. Then, at the beginning of this season, her name started popping up again, and I was glad to see it. Apparently, some personal problems threw her off her game in a big way. She showed everyone she was back in the Australian Open round of 16 by giving Venus Williams a spirited fight. Domachowska competed with steady serving, great court sense and fine athleticism. Errors crept in , though, and Williams took the match, 6-4, 6-4. Domachowska was most impressive, however, and it was a pleasure to see her on such a big stage.

Bud Collins had never heard of her, which surprised me.

Karatantcheva makes her way back

Sesil Karatantcheva, who--as far as I can tell--was yet another victim of the so-called doping rules--just won a 25k tournament in Surprise, Arizona. When the cheeky Bulgarian player was given her two-year suspension, she also lost all of her ranking points and had to forfeit $129,000. (The suspension was given under very iffy circumstances, and Karatantcheva never even got to testify.)

Karatantcheva, in 2005, at age 15, was the youngest female player ever to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open, a feat she accomplished by beating Venus Williams in the round of 16.

In Surprise, Karatancheva had to play three qualifying rounds before she could enter the tournament. She defeated Angela Haynes in the final.

The sooner we see the talented Bulgarian back on the tour, the better.

Time to talk about the outfits

Though what tennis players wear is not very important, the Grand Slam tournaments have become venues for players who like to make fashion statements. Here are my picks for the best outfits among those I have seen:

Jelena Jankovic--The lines of her pink dress are exquisite, and the slim headband is an elegant accessory.

Maria Kirilenko--She always looks great in her latest Stella McCartney, and this one is no exception.

Elena Dementieva--The scalloped skirt and gathered bodice would not look good on too many players, but on Dementieva, they look just right.

Maria Sharapova-I liked the khaki version much better, but the dress is nevertheless quite nice.

Venus Williams--She looks like old-time tennis with a twist in her own design, and the effect is quite smart.

Ana Ivanovic--Ivanovic is elegant in clear blue and a ruffled skirt.

Anna Chakvetadze--Something about this unusual tennis dress appeals to me, and when I think about it, I like most of Chakvetadze's outfits.

Russian Fed Cup team announced

Maria Sharapova has been named to the Russian Fed Cup team for the upcoming competition, but given her history, there are probably those who will believe it only when they see it. Also named were Anna Chakvetadze, Dinara Safina, Elena Vesnina, and Elena Likhovtseva. One of those will be eliminated, of course, and will presumably serve as the alternate.

Justin Gimelstob: The next Dick Enberg?

Tennis commentator and recently retired ATP player Justin Gimelstob has some sexist views, which makes him--well, a lot like all the other commentators. His "sympathy" for tour players because they had to sweat in front of "glamorous" dates and wives pretty much said it all.

Now that he has a television audience, however, Gimelstob is able to do more damage. Over the weekend, he made personal comments about Maria Kirilenko's body to Maria Kirilenko, and he made several comments about both her body and Daniela Hantuchova's body. On one occasion, his fellow commentator jokingly gave him a "time-out," but we know from our experience with Dick Engerg that no real time-out will ever be given.

Zheng and Nestor upset in mixed doubles

Australian Open number 4 seeds Zheng Jie and Daniel Nestor were defeated 7-5, 7-6 by Chan Yung-Jan and Eric Butorac. The winners will play Virginie Razzano and Rogier Wassen.

Meanwhile, in women's doubles, the Bondarenko sisters, Alona and Kateryna, squeaked past number 8 seeds Peng Shuai and Sun Tiantian.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

"I'll believe it when I see it"

In her latest Australian Open blog post, Ana Invanovic talks about on-court coaching. She says that, like most players on the tour, she is against it, but that the experiment continues with a promise from the tour to better police coaching from the stands. "I'll believe it when I see it," Ivanvic says of that promise. I'm with Ivanovic on that one.

Mauresmo and Kuznetsova withdraw from Australian Open doubles competition

Svetlana Kuznetsova and Amelie Mauresmo, both of whom where upset in singles play in Melbourne, have withdrawn from doubles play. Their second round opponents, Mariya Koryttseva and Tatiana Perebiynis, move to the third round, where they will face top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Guess who had the Radwanska moment?!

A week ago, I asked if anyone would have a "Radwanska moment"--referring to Agnieszka Radwanska's third round upset of Maria Sharapova in the 2007 U.S. Open--at the Australian Open. Well, someone did--Agnieszka Radwanska. The young Polish player defeated world number 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 6-4. Both players looked bad in the first set, but in the second, Radwanska played with precision and cleverness.

Shortly after that, number 6 seed Anna Chakvetadze fell to Maria Kirilenko in three sets. Chakvetadze--who has been suffering with an injured hand--went away in the second set, but came back strong in the third. A pivotal moment occurred toward the end when she mysteriously failed to question an incorrect overrule from the (less than reliable) chair umpire. (It brought back memories of Linday Davenport's failing to challenge a bad call on a match point a couple of years ago.) The mistake caused her to go down 2-4, and that was pretty much it. Despite the second set slump, there were some very fine moments in this match, with the players frequently delivering thrilling rallies. Chakvetadze and Kirilenko are two players I very much enjoy watching. Final score: Kirilenko def. Chakvetadze, 6-7, 6-1, 6-2.

More seeds gone

With half of the third round played, joining the seeds who had already fallen are Amelie Mauresmo, Francesca Schiavone, Shahar Peer, Virginie Razzano, and Victoria Azarenka. Though Mauresmo's upset is the biggest one on paper, her recent troubles, compounded by her 2007 troubles, make it, unforunately, not that much of a surprise. What did surprise me was Peer's failure to win more than two games in her match against Elena Dementieva.

As always, it was a pleasure to watch Schiavone play Justine Henin. One of the few players who gives Henin a real battle, she nevertheless cannot defeat her.

She looks prettty female to me

I'm not sure who it was, but someone on Tennis Channel needs to know that "fellow countryman" is redundant, but--much more important--he needs to discover that Elena Vesnina is not Maria Sharapova's countryman at all: She is a woman.

(And while you're at it, Tennis Channel, Youzhny' s first name is not Michael.)

Number 2 seeds out in women's doubles

Australian Open number 2 seeds Katerina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama were eliminated from competition in the second round when they ran into the unseeded team of Venus Williams and Serena Williams. Final Score: Williams/Williams def. Srebotnik/Sugiyama, 6-2, 7-6

This and that at the Australian Open

Amelie Mauresmo on her ten double faults in the third round: "Well, it's definitely not the best thing to do in key moments, for sure."

Maria Sharapova on her father's new hoodie: "Nike gave it to him, unfortunately. He looks like an assassin."

Jelena Jankovic was fined for coaching when her mother cheered her on. Jankovic's mother is not her coach, but because she yelled out in Serbian and because those in charge could not understand what she was saying, the charge stuck. On the one hand, it sounds silly; on the other, if officials and the opponent cannot understand you, questions arise.

Serena Williams conducted a clinic for Evonne Goolagong's kids' camp.

Don't forget to listen to Australian Open Radio--the hosts are very silly and a lot of fun.

If anyone has a clue what happened to Shahar Peer in the third round (I did not see the match), please let me know.

And finally, because nothing could follow it...According to the BBC, Justine Henin is taking hip-hop dance lessons.

Friday cat blogging--"Can you hear me now?"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Huber left off of U.S. Fed Cup team

New American citizen Liezel Huber asked U.S. Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison to do her a favor and let her know early if she would be on the 2008 team so that she could plan her schedule. Garrison has accommodated that request and let Huber know that she will not be playing in Fed Cup this year.

"It's a shame," responded Huber, "because I would have been the proudest American there."

Not being chosen for the Fed Cup team does not eliminate Huber from participation in the Olympics because a player must be available for Fed Cup, not necessarily chosen, to qualify for Olympic play. The only player Garrison has selected for this year's team is Lindsay Davenport. It is speculated that she will also tap Davenport's friend, Lisa Raymond, and that she will do what she can to persuade both Williams sisters to play.

3 qualifiers left in Melbourne

Among the qualifiers who entered the main draw of the Australian Open, only three are left, and they are not the three many of us would have guessed: Hsieh Su-wei, Marta Domachowska and Sabine Lisicki.

Hsieh, who won a gold medal in the 2006 Asian Games, has reached the third round by defeating qualifier Klara Zakopalova (formerly Kukalova) and the talented and seeded Sybille Bammer. Lisicki, who is ranked number 194 in the world, defeated Dinara Safina, of all people, and then defeated Mariya Koryttseva.

Most surprising is the veteran Marta Domachowska, who has been on a long slide down the rankings for some time. Domachowska has never before gotten beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament, and she has seen her ranking slip from number 36 (in the spring of 2006) to number 146. In order to get out of the qualifying rounds, she had to beat talented young Ayumi Morita, and when she reached the main draw, she defeated Mathilde Johansson and Sofia Arvidssson, who had taken out Marion Bartoli.

What's next for these qualifiers? Hsieh faces Aravane Rezai, who has been on somewhat of a roll lately, and who eliminated Tatiana Golovin from the Australian Open just the other day. Lisicki gets talented Caroline Wozniacki, who made it through the second round by defeating Alona Bondarenko. And Domachowska gets the toughest challenge of all: She plays Li Na, whose return to pro tennis after a very long lay-off was punctuated by her winning at Gold Coast.

Meanwhile, the lowest seed standing is Sania Mirza, who next faces Venus Williams.

The seeded players who have already been elimnated are: Marion Bartoli, Tatiana Golovin, Patty Schnyder, Dinara Safina, Sybille Bammer, Agnes Szavay, Alona Bondarenko, Lucie Safarova, and Julia Vakulenko.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Dechy and Safina out in the first round

Nathalie Dechy and Dinara Safina, the 5th seeds in the Australian Open women's doubles competition, have been defeated, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 by Jelena Jankovic and Bethanie Mattek. Also, number 9 seeds Lisa Raymond and Francesca Schiavone were defeated, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 by Nicole Vaidisova and Barbara Zahlavova.

Camille Pin presents another entertaining show

How frustrating is it to watch Camille Pin, the slight French player who is a wonderful athlete but who has the weakest serve in women's tennis? Pretty frustrating. Pin, a counter-puncher from way back, always rises to the occasion at a Grand Slam tournament (she came within a hair of taking Maria Sharapova out of the Australian Open in the first round last year, and that was after being down 0-5 in the third set), and her Australian Open second round match against an error-prone, lackluster Venus Williams was no exception. Pin gave it her best--weak serve and all--but in the end, Williams prevailed, 7-5, 6-4. The match featured fourteen service breaks.

Note to Navratilova...

Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova are not "guys." If I want sexism, I can get it from Dick Enberg and Pam Shriver.

Davenport, Golovin and Bammer exit

Aravane Rezai defeated Tatiana Golovin in the second round of the Australian Open

Though not seeded, it is nevertheless news that Lindsay Davenport was handily taken out of the Australian Open in the second round by a blazing Maria Sharapova. I did not get to see the match, but my understanding is that Sharapova made Davenport move a lot, and movement has always been Davenport's downfall. Final score: Sharapova def. Davenport, 6-1, 6-3.

The 13th seed, Tatiana Golovin, was taken out of competition by her countrywoman, the hard-hitting Aravane Rezai, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Rezai has had her share of troubles the last couple of years, but so far, is having a very nice 2008 season. Golovin--who became fitter and much more skillful under the tutelage of Mats Wilander--was certainly expected to advance much farther than the second round.

Meanwhile, Sybille Bammer, the 19th seed, fell hard to qualifier Hsieh Su-wei, winner of the gold medal at the 2006 Asian Games. Final score: 6-2, 6-0

Vaidisova denies reports of her alleged engagement

Speaking with Chris Fowler on ESPN2, Nicole Vaidisova denied that she and Radek Stepanek are planning to be married, and called the item a "rumor."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

If Serena Williams needed a workout, she got it in the 2nd round

Yuan Meng was no match for a spot-on Serena Williams, but neither was she a pushover. The Australian Open qualifier ran Williams all over the court, often losing the point, but extending the rallies and giving the crowd their money's worth. It was fun to watch her fight to the finish, and to play Williams so fearlessly. Yuan made only nine unforced errors in the match. Final score: Williams def. Yuan, 6-3, 6-1.

They don't have a vaccine for it, Ana

I meant to post this last week, but got too involved in the Australian Open. The Guardian/Observer ran an interview with Ana Ivanovic, and the reporter asked her one of those overly-tantalizing questions: "Are women attracted to you?" Ivanovic's reply:

Oh my God, I've had a few uncomfortable experiences but I'm so allergic to that. I just can't... even now when I see my friends and they just want to kiss the cheek. I prefer men.

Schnyder out in second round

Anyone who reads this blog knows that it is with great displeasure that I report that Patty Schnyder, who was leading 6-4, 3-0 in her Australian Open second round, has lost to Australian Casey Dellacqua. Final score: Dellacqua def. Schnyder, 4-6, 7-5, 8-6.

I have nothing else to say.

Nicole Pratt retires from professional tennis

"I can't compete with those players with one and a half legs," said Nicole Pratt, unintentionally giving us one last laugh as she retired from the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour after her Australian Open first round loss to Nadia Petrova. (Some might argue that Petrova, at this point in her career, is playing with one and a half legs.) The 34-year-old Australian had knee surgery in October, and has been fighting injuries for some time.

The entertaining Pratt has one career singles titles and nine doubles titles. She was a long-time member of the Australian Fed Cup team, and was twice an Olympian.

And we thought Dick Enberg was a sexist freak

Roger Rasheed, former coach of Lleyton Hewitt and commentator in Australia, caused a controversy yesterday when he showed an explicit shot of Venus Williams' backside and commented to his female colleagues: "Take a look at this now. Make or think as you will, ladies, but for me, that's a pretty good sight."

Rasheed is free to admire any part of Venus Williams' body that he wishes to admire, but for him to make a public comment about it, and for the network to show the shot it showed is offensive not only to Williams, but to women's tennis, women's sports, female fans, and all our daughters.

Fortunately, a number of people phoned in to complain about the incident.

But don't get too happy--it is stunning how many fans--male and female--are totally baffled that anyone would find anything wrong with what Rasheed and the network did. Can you say "consciousness raising"?

This is not the first time Rasheed has caused a stir at the 2008 Australian Open: The other day, he accused both Jankovic and Paszek of faking their injuries.

Scattering seeds

Lucie Safarova (seed number 22), who sustained a gluteal muscle strain in Sydney and had to retire in the second round, is out of the Australian Open. She was defeated by Catalina Castano, 6-1, 6-4, and my best guess (I did not see the match) was that the injury was at least somewhat involved involved in this loss.

Sixteenth seed Dinara Safina was also eliminated during the first round, by Sabine Lisicki of Germany, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2. Lisicki is ranked number 194 in the world.

And finally, the ever-baffling Marion Bartoli, seeded number 10, lost to Sofia Arvidsson, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3. Arvidsson, who has struggled a lot in the past couple of years, has been doing rather well in 2008.

Cirstea impresses, but Ivanovic moves on

I hope Sorana Cirstea has a good coach because she is loaded with potential. In her first round Australian Open match against Ana Ivanovic, she had a lot of problems with her serve and with her volleys. But her ground strokes were first-class, and her big backhand effectively neutralized the scary Ivanovic forehand, a matter not lost on a sometimes dazed-looking Ivanovic.

When Cirstea lost the first set (which she had on her racquet, at one point), she faded away, as I expected her to. But then, when she was down 1-5 in the second, something clicked, and she returned to real competition. It was too little too late, though, and Ivanovic won, 7-5, 6-3. It was a highly entertaining match, all the more so because of Cirstea's personality.

Ivanovic received a bad line call toward the end of the match. Hawkeye was out of commission and the chair umpire should have easily overruled the call, but she did not. A justifiably angry Ivanovic did not shake the umpire's hand at the end of the match, but instead, gave her a kind of cursory wave. The message was clear.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Two phenoms down, a few to go

Agnes Szavay has been taken out in the first round of the Australian Open, by Ekaterina Makarova, who defeated her, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. Preceding her through the door, of course, was Tamira Paszek, whose three-hour battle against Jelena Jankovic will not be forgotten.

Left to play another day are Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka--Caroline Wozniacki, too, if you want to count her.

"Yes, we have no bananas!"--Jankovic joins in chorus with Sharapova

I believe, at the end of the day, personally, my life is not about a banana.

So said Maria Sharapova, after she won the 2006 U.S. Open and had to contend with questions from the sports media about whether she had received illegal coaching from her father/coach, Yuri Sharapov, who signaled her to eat a banana during her final match against Justine Henin.

"I'm sitting here as a U.S. Open champion, and the last thing I think people need to worry about is a banana," Sharapova responded to reporters.

We may have thought we had heard the last about illegal bananas, but now it is Jelena Jankovic with a banana problem. Like she needed another problem. When Jankovic emerged from her flight to Melbourne and police dogs took a sniff of her bags, the police immediately zeroed in on her racquet bag, which, they said, seemed to contain an illegal edible. Jankovic denied the presence of food in the bag, but a search resulted in the discovery of a very old, black, rotten banana. Jankovic was issued a warning and went on her way.

What next? Kuznetsova caught with a banana nut muffin? Chakvetadze censored for consuming a banana Moon Pie?

Note to Bethanie Mattek: Skip the Carmen Miranda outfit...

Williams sisters enter Family Circle Cup

Venus and Serena Williams have entered the 2008 Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina, one of only two clay court tournaments in the U.S. Venus Williams won the Family Circle Cup in 2004, and was a semifinalist last year. Serena Williams had to retire during her first round match last year.

Ivanovic blogs from Melbourne

Right here.

Some tasty Australian Open first round doubles matches

The doubles draw is out, and there are some first round matches that are definitely worth following:

Kirilenko/Szavay v. Davenport/Hantuchova

Chakvetadze/Li v. Peng/Sun

Peschke/Stubbs v. Cibulkova/Malek

Jankovic/Mattek v. Dechy/Safina

Nathalie Dechy, who had a successful partnership with Vera Zvonareva, has now created a successful partnership with Dinara Safina. I would like to see her play with Zvonareva again, but I don't know whether that will happen.

Are we looking at another doubles break-up?

Li Na, Jelena Jankovic's doubles partner, is playing doubles with Anna Chakvetadze at the Australian Open, and Jankovic is playing with Bethanie Mattek. I do not know what this is all about, but it looks as though another doubles team has split.

Mattek did not make the main draw of singles competition, but since she is playing doubles, perhaps we will get a chance to see what outfit she is wearing.

Last woman standing: It's not just a figure of speech

Jelena Jankovic's hamstring injury appears to have healed (for now), but her back injury now appears to be chronic. In her first round Australian Open struggle against the relentless Tamira Paszek, Jankovic had to have treatment for her back, and was visibly dealing with back pain. Back pain is becoming more frequent for Jankovic, and--if she does not find a way to overcome it--it will become her greatest obstacle. One suspects that her unwise decision to play way too many tournaments last season contributed to--or even caused--this issue.

Meanwhile, Paszek, after nearly three hours of play, had to have treatment for her thigh.

And on another court, Lindsay Davenport, struggling to survive against Sara Errani, was obviously hampered by a foot injury. Then there was Vera Zvonareva, who should probably never have played the first round. She had to retire at the beginning of her second set against Ai Sugiyama; Zvonareva injured her left ankle in Hobart.

The Australian Open is already the toughest physical venue of all the Grand Slams. The new court surface should help, especially with regard to foot and ankle injury prevention, but the heat is still going to be a factor (though it may be somewhat mitigated by the surface). Consider the other players who are coming back from a long injury/illness layoff: Mauresmo, Li, Zheng, Sharapova. Now add the recently injured players: Safarova, Azarenka, Mauresmo, Li, Medina Garrigues, Dechy.

Two players could not even show up in Australia: Meghann Shaughnessy may be out as long as six months because of a recent knee injury, and Sam Stosur had not fully recovered from her long illness by the time the season opened.

Obviously, some of these injured players are probably healed from their injuries and illnesses to the point that they are no longer especially vulnerable to renewed injury at the Australian Open. But some probably are still vulnerable, and as the hot days in Melbourne go by, it looks like being healthy is as good a way to survive as any.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Will the Australian Open feature a Radwanska moment?

Upsets are part of tennis; without them, there would be no point in playing or watching. But major upsets, such as the defeat of Maria Sharapova by Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round of the U.S. Open, are another thing. (The same could be said, perhaps, about Marion Bartoli's upset of Justine Henin in the Wimbledon semifinals, except--by the time Bartoli got to Henin--she had already taken out Jankovic, and looked (at least to me) ripe to go all the way to the final. I was not surprised by the score.)

Could a Radwanska-type upset occur in Melbourne? Do we want it to? The excitement can be great, but we also sometimes have to watch our favorites go down in unexpected defeat. I do not expect any specific major upsets to occur, and am, in fact, horrified by the thought of a few of them. But one could happen.

Which lower-ranked player do you see pulling a big upset and having a Radwanska moment in Melbourne?

Is anyone else having trouble with the videos on the tour site?

Back in the old days, I knew of very few people who could view videos in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Theater. Mac or PC--it didn't matter. Now there is a whole new video collection, being touted as the next big thing, and I cannot watch the videos because of shaky, jerky sound. I have tried viewing them with Firefox and IE, with Vista Home Premium and XP Home, and with two different computers. I am having similar problems with videos on Tennis Channel, too. I have all my codecs and a fast, powerful computer. Obviously, the problem lies with the WTA site.

I filled out the contact form on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site. In the past, you might just as well have put a message in a bottle and stuck it in the Adriatic as send an email to the WTA--there was never an answer forthcoming. Perhaps, with their apparent interest in better customer relations, they will actually answer me this time.

Anyone else having difficulty? If you are, please fill out the contact form and let the WTA Sony Erricsson Tour site know about it.

Ivanovic signs major deal with Yonex

Ana Ivanovic has signed what may be the biggest racquet endoresement deal in the history of tennis. She has signed a four-year contract with Yonex.

As of Monday, Ivanovic becomes number 3 in the world, behind Justine Henin and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Sony Ericsson signs Sharapova to major deal

Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications has signed Maria Sharapova to an exclusive four-year sponsorship agreement that will make her the company's first global brand ambassador. Sony Ericsson has been a major sponsor of what is now known as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour since 2005.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dokic's hopes are dashed

After all she has been through--including not being given a wild card for the Australian Open--Jelena Dokic saw the end of her Australian hopes dashed by Tammy Tunasugarn, who beat her in the second qualifying round, 6-2, 6-1. Dokic was playing with an injured ankle, so the outcome is not exactly a surprise.

The experts pick

Predictions for the Australian Open singles competition:

Jon Wertheim--Justine Henin (Ivanovic as finalist)

Barry McKay--Ana Ivanovic

Steve Tignor--Justine Henin (Venus Williams as finalist)

Tracy Austin--Justine Henin

Henin wins Sydney; Daniilidou takes Hobart

Justine Henin was down 0-3 with a break point against her in the third set of the final in Sydney, and--of course--she won the match. That is often how Justine Henin does things. Her opponent, Svetlana Kuznetsova, however, played some of the better tennis I've seen her play in a long time. Final score: Henin def. Kuznetsova, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

In Hobart, Eleni Daniilidou had an easier time of it when she won the championship via a walkover. Opponent Vera Zvonareva suffered a left ankle injury.

Looking at this made me sad

It may make you sad, too, to see a photo gallery of Martina Hingis's career. It made me sad on two accounts--1. that Hingis was twice forced out of competition, and 2. that she ascended during a time when I had stopped watching women's tennis. I do not really know what happened, but after decades of Goolagong, Evert and Navratilova and Graf, Seles and Sanchez-Vicario, I needed a break. It was probably Martina Hingis who drew me back in, but by the time I became a regular viewer again, she was completing her glory days. I watched her, anyway, and I still regret that I missed so many of her matches, though I have since seen many of the major ones.

Australian Open begins Monday!

Can Lindsay Davenport make it past the second round?

Qualifying is now in progress, and the tournament begins Monday. The draw is out, and there is also a brand new surface. Expect continued heat illness, but--according to tournament authorites-- a decrease in heat problems because the surface will not reflect as much heat. I am skeptical about a reduction in heat illness, but I do think the new surface--which will not melt like the Rebound Ace did--will go far to prevent ankle and knee injuries.


Justine Henin--She is the world's number one player and she is playing at the very top of her form. Anyone who can get past Henin deserves to win the Australian Open, but it will be very hard for anyone to do that. Her athleticism, confidence and court intelligence are currently unsurpassed.

Serena Williams--The defending champion came from virtually nowhere last year and mowed down the competition. Can she do it again? It depends on which Serena shows up in Melbourne. The healthy and focused Serena can reclaim her crown, but that is not always the Serena who shows up.

Maria Sharapova--Sharapova had a bad 2007 because of two injuries--one really serious--and a resulting lack of confidence. She showed, in the Sony Ericsson Championships, that she was back, however. And Sharapova is just not the type to allow two bad seasons in a row to spoil her fun. She is looking very sharp, and she will have to stay sharp to get through what is probably going to be her second round--a match against Lindsay Davenport.

Lindsay Davenport--I almost took Davenport off of the contender list when I saw that she will most likely face Sharapova in the second round. Both history and current conditions indicate that Sharapova will win that match. But I think that some of the pressure is off of Davenport now, and she may be swinging more freely--at least metaphorically--in Melbourne. So I give her a chance to beat Sharapova, and if she does that, I give her a good chance to win the whole thing.


Venus Williams--Many analysts have Wiliams on the top contender list. I was tempted to put her there, too, but I am wary of her untamed forehand, which seems to fail her the most at big moments, Wimbledon notwithstanding. Still, it would be far from shocking if Venus Williams were to win in Melbourne.

Svetlana Kuznetsova--I was going to put Kuznetsova on my Players to Watch list until I saw her play Henin in the Sydney final. She lost, but the improvement in her game was notable. If she continues to add this much finesse and cerebral strength to what is already an athletically superior game, she is a contender.

Jelena Jankovic--As a fan, it is hard for me to say that Jankovic is not the contender in Melbourne that I thought she would be. Last year's crazy schedule took a lot out of her, as did her string of losses to Henin (or so I would imagine). But the extreme talent is still there, and if she has what it takes to rise to the occasion, she can go far.

Amelie Mauresmo--The 2006 champion missed almost an entire year last year, so she is not in line as a top contender. But she is Amelie Mauresmo, she likes the Australian Open, she is historically Henin's toughest competitor, and she says she is in top physical shape again.

Ana Ivanovic--Ivanovic is a very gifted player who, in my opinion, has improved her game more than anyone else in the past year. But she still has a tendency to melt at big moments, or to go lackluster. A lift in confidence, however--combined with that killer forehand--could get her somewhere.


Nicole Vaidisova--I'm sure others list her as a contender, but Vaidisova is still too unstable and error-prone to make one of my top lists. Nevertheless, she is one to watch in Melbourne.

Anna Chakvetadze--Which Anna will be in Melbourne? The savvy one or the mentally weak one? Things have not gone well for Chakvetadze lately: She was traumatized when her house was burglarized, and she is also recovering from a hand injury caused by an assault by the burglars. Chances are, Melbourne will not be a good venue for her, but knowing what she is capable of, I list her as one to watch.

Patty Schnyder--For me, she is always one to watch. Schnyder especially likes the Australian Open, and she was a semifinalist a few years ago. No longer in the top 10, Schnyder still puts on a good show with plenty of lefty spin, expert dropping and very well executed first and second serves.

Daniela Hantuchova--Hantuchova worked hard to get back into the top 10, and she enters Melbourne with nothing much to lose. Look for her to be a dangerous competitor.

Li Na--Since she was out for months last year, it is with some surprise that I put her on this list, but her win at Gold Coast says she is back, and we should keep an eye out for her.

Lucie Safarova--Not the most consistent of players, Safarova is nevertheless capable of playing some first-rate tennis. Her Wimbledon match against Jankovic was a stunner.

Tatiana Golovin--With much improved fitness and strategy, Golovin may finally live up to the reputation she gained when she made her first big breakthrough at age 17. Another breakthrough could occur this year.

Shahar Peer--Peer has inconsistency problems, too, but she tends to be tough, and her matches are rarely boring.


Of course, we do not know the makeup of many opening rounds because they involve qualifiers, but of the ones we do know, these are notable:

Emilie Loit v. Francesca Schiavone: This match should have entertainment value.

Kateryna Bondarenko v. Aravane Rezai: Rezai recently made it the finals of the ASB Classic, beating Katerina Srebotnik along the way. Bondarenko has been running hot and cold, but this has the makings of a good match.

Jelena Jankovic v. Tamira Paszek: This has the makings of either a dud or a thriller. The talented young Paszek could give a shaky Jankovic trouble, but more likely, a prepared Jankovic will will take care of business.

Dominika Cibulkova v. Flavia Pennetta: Pennetta is high on the comeback trail, and Cibulkova is a player I am watching closely.

Kaia Kanepi v. Alicia Molik: I think Molik is now strong enough in her comeback to get past Kanepi, but it may not be easy for her.

Caroline Wozniacki v. Gisela Dulko: I like Dulko for this, but she retired in the middle of her first round in Hobart because of a hip injury she sustained while playing in the Hopman Cup. As of three days ago, it had not healed. Wozniacki can rise to the occasion, and if Dulko is still hurting, the Danish player could take her out.

Tathiana Garbin v. Eleni Daniilidou: Daniilidou, who just emerged the winner at Hobart, is having a good season opening, and one would expect this to be a good match.

Meilen Tu v. Maria Kirilenko: This is worth watching because Tu is one of those players who, once in a while, likes to take down somebody with a decent ranking.

Nadia Petrova v. Nicole Pratt: This match is bound to be entertaining, and no one should be too shocked if Pratt, with little to lose, overcomes the troubled Petrova, though I do suspect the Russian to get to at least the second round.

As we learn which qualifiers play whom, I'll post more interesting first round matches.

In the meantime, everyone is getting ready for the second round because--unless something goes very wrong--that round will feature a match between Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport. It is a real shame for Davenport that she has to meet Sharapova in such an early round. Anything could happen.

Will 2008 be a good year for Sharapova?

When Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, it was a very big deal. Though she wasn’t as young as Hingis was when she made her major breakthrough, she was still young enough to cause quite a stir in the tennis world. Since then, Sharapova has become a sex symbol and a product, and has had all manner of attributes projected onto her by members of the tennis press, who tend to assess her every shortcoming as the only one she has ever had. In reality, Sharapova is no different from other good players—she has her strengths and her weaknesses.

A lot has happened since the summer of 2004. Sharapova won the Sony Ericsson Championships that November, giving her even more momentum, but then failed to win a major the next year. She capped a successful 2006, however, with a brilliant run—and win—at the U.S. Open. 2007 should have been a great year for her, but a shoulder injury kept her off the courts for a long time, and when she did return, it was with a weak shoulder and equally weakened confidence. To make matters worse, she also had to fight a recurring hamstring injury. When Agnieszka Radwanska dismissed her from the U.S. Open, people began predicting her demise.

Sharapova is not the fastest mover on the court, and she would probably like to spend her entire career away from the net. The same could be said of Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport, and they managed quite well, thank you. When Sharapova-worshipper and ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez goes on and on about the Russian player’s long list of talents, she usually includes “work ethic” as one of them. On that point, Fernandez and I agree completely. I don’t kjnow if anyone on the tour works harder than Sharapova. When she realized how relatively slow she was, she began doing constant foot drills. When she hurt her shoulder, she modified her serve. When she realized that players like Justine Henin were not going to go away, she began going to the net more, and doing it rather well. She ended the 2007 season as the loser in a glorious 3 1/2 hour match against Henin. She had barely prepared for it, and by the third set, she was almost too tired to stand up, but she stayed to the end.

That match turned heads. If Sharapova, with minimal preparation, could keep Henin on the court for 3 ½ hours, maybe she was ready to return to the highest rung of women’s tennis. It won’t be easy for her. As a result of her shoulder injury, Sharapova now has bursitis, and she has to have constant preventive treatment for it. Even with this treatment, it is bound to flare up now and then. She is still not one of the tour’s better movers, but her volleying has improved, and—with her new service motion—she is once again hitting the kinds of serves that are either aces or very hard to return successfully. Prior to being injujred, Sharapova had the best second serve on the tour, and I predict that that will come back, too.

Can she win a Slam in 2008? I think she can, and I’m pretty sure she thinks she can. And given the importance of belief in tennis, there is a good chance that Maria Sharapova may strain her bad shoulder holding up a large trophy before the year is over.

Friday cat blogging--new bed edition

Roxie and Velma display their new holiday gift--a plush bed. Their former bed was taken over by Tarzan, and Ziggy is occupying the extra bed we bought when we decided to keep the kittens. The sisters now want nothing to do with those beds, and demanded a new one--just for them. Now they are happy again.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Sania Mirza saga continues

First, there was the fatwa put on her because of her sports clothing and her "corrupting influence." Then she got in trouble for promoting safe sex in an AIDS-ridden country. Then she was charged with trespassing when her film crew used the Mecca Masjid without permission. Then she was issued a court warning for "dishonoring the national flag of India" during the Hopman Cup: While watching a match, she stuck her feet in front of the flag. If she is found guilty, she could receive a sentence of up to three years in prison, plus a fine.

But wait...there's of Mirza's doctors has received the following threat note:
Dont treat Sania. She is getting injured because god does not want her to play as she was bringing bad name to the religion. Please don’t treat her or else you will face serious consequences. We will not hesitate to harm you. Please pay attention to the letters otherwise it should be very harmful for you.
What next? The Indian star, simply by being herself, creates ongoing controversy in her country. There is really no way that all of this drama cannot affect Mirza's tennis game. This season, she has already failed to show the promise she displayed when she returned from her long injury layoff in 2007.

Despite a mutual struggle to lose, Kuznetsova emerges as semifinal winner

It looked for all the world that Nicole Vaidisova and Svetlana Kuznetsova were each doing everything possible to lose the Sydney semifinal match, but, of course, someone had to win the thing, and the victory went to Kuznetsova, 7-5, 7-6. It was an ugly, boring match, and I expect a boring final.

Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site changing again

The live scores link has not disappeared; it has been moved to the top of the page. I'm still adjusting to their having moved the photo gallery link. And there are new digital media plans--here's hoping they work better than WTA Tour Theater did. No matter what we did, many of us were never able to view the videos.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Oddsmakers like Henin for Australian Open

Here is the current breakdown at the top:

Henin 2.25
S. Williams 6.0
Sharapova 6.5
V. Williams 9.0

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mirza out in Hobart quarterfinals

Sania Mirza's comeback at the end of the 2007 season, after a long injury layoff, turned heads. She added some strategy to that big forehand, mixed thoroughly, and came out a new, more complex player. But so far this season, things have not gone that well for her. She lost both of her Hopman Cup matches, to Meghann Shaughnessy and Lucie Safarova; a bad back may have contributed to these losses. Now she has been knocked out of the quarterfinals at Hobart by another comeback player, Flavia Pennetta, who had to enter the tournament as a qualifier. Final score: Pennetta def. Mirza, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.

Stosur to miss Fed Cup

Sam Stosur says she is feeling good, but will not be able to play until March, so she is going to miss the Fed Cup matches. The Australian Fed Cup team for January 30-February 2, led by Alicia Molik, will also consist of Nicole Pratt, Rennae Stubbs and Casey Dellacqua.

And the injuries just keep coming

This time, it's Lucie Safarova, who gave Justine Henin at walkover in their second round in Sydney because of a strained right gluteal muscle.

It's also Jelena Dokic, who now does not have to worry about whether to stay in Hobart or go to Melbourne. She retired with an ankle sprain during the first set of her second round match against Flavia Pennetta.

Black and Huber upset in Sydney

Alicia Molik and Sun Tiantian have defeated top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber, 3-6, 6-3, 1-7 in the Sydney quarterfinals. They will play the winner of the Camerin/Craybas v. Chan/Chuang quarterfinal.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Top seed out at Hobart

Alona Bondarenko, the number one seed at Moorilla Hobart International, has been defeated in the second round by Eleni Daniilidou, 6-3, 6-3. Daniilidou maintained a 75 first serve percentage and a 68 first serve win percentage.

Two champions enter Family Circle Cup

Happy JJ leaves the court after her high-wind championship victory in 2007

2007 Family Circle Cup champion Jelena Jankovic and 2003 and 2005 champion Justine Henin have entered the 2008 event, to be held in April on Daniel Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.

The Family Circle Cup is the oldest all-women's tennis tournament in the U.S., and one of only two clay events in the country. The green clay plays a bit faster than the European red clay, but if you like clay court tennis, the Tier I Family Circle Cup offers plenty of it. This is an exceptionally well-run tournament, with lots of player access and a very lovely and comfortable environment.

The Family Circle Cup was the first U.S. tournament Justine Henin won, in 2003. She could not attend in 2004 because of her virus, and in 2005, she was taken out in the semifinals by Patty Schnyder, who is the hands-down favorite in Charleston every year (she has been a finalist twice, once after mowing down all the top seeds). Last year, Henin had to withdraw because of respiratory problems.

Jankovic did not do well at all at the Family Circle Cup until her breakthrough year last year. She beat Venus Williams in a hard-fought semifinal, then skillfully weathered a torrential storm with very high winds (the final was almost canceled) to defeat Dinara Safina and win the tournament.

The 2007 doubles champions were Yan Zi and Zheng Jie, who defeated Peng Shuai and Tiantian Sun in the final.

Last year's scheduled line-up included not only Henin and Jankovic, but Mauresmo, Hingis, Sharapova, Kuznetsova, and Serena Williams. Not only did Henin withdraw, but so did Mauresmo (appendicitis) and Sharapova (shoulder and hamstring). At the last minute, Hingis and Kuznetsova also had to withdraw because of injury, and Serena Williams retired in the first set of her first match. To make matters worse, Schnyder, facing a sudden turn in the weather, made her exit in the second round. It could have been a disaster, but there were still plenty of good players--Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Safina, Vera Zvonareva, Sybille Bammer, and a very exciting wild card in the form of Michaella Krajicek.

Zvonareva's wrist injury, which took her off the tour for a long time, occurred in Charleston, and the tournament staff--to compensate for the let-down of a couple of cancelled matches (singles and doubles)--put together a doubles "exhibition" match that was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Gisela Dulko, Flavia Pennetta, Liezel Huber, Katerina Srebotnik, and umpire Lynn Welch put on a show that made me ache, I laughed so hard for so long. My only regret is that no one at the tournament thought to videotape it.

This will be my fourth year to attend the Family Circle Cup, and I am excited about it. Someone I know called it the most fan-friendly sports event she had ever attended, and that does not surprise me.